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Iggy And The Stooges – [Box Set]

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Thursday, 20 May 2010

Lexicographer Samuel Johnson once wrote that, “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man” and, truly, Iggy Pop and The Stooges had tested that adage to its' absolute extreme by 1970. Between 1968 and 1970, the pages of those music magazines that would cover the band (there weren't many) ran red with pictorials of Iggy Pop – rolling in broken glass, smearing himself with peanut butter, knicking himself with drumsticks when he got nervous, walking out to the center of a sold out venue on the hands of ecstatic fans, nearly impaling himself on mic stands when he'd voluntarily collapse on them – battered and bloody but standing, and fans ate it up. It was the kind of coverage and exposure that makes legends and, even though little of the coverage was positive or complimentary, it made The Stooges immortal; it also nearly killed them and, addled by substance abuse problems (three out of four members had heroin habits) as well as being publicly and professionally viewed as a great, big liability, The Stooges called it a day.

That should have been it, but the fates wouldn't have it that way. After the split, Iggy Pop found himself in line with David Bowie and Tony Defries, and holed up in the UK with guitarist James Williamson  working on some new songs. When push came to shove and some real work needed to start, the only two men Iggy could think of to fill out he lineup of The Stooges were Ron and Scott Asheton – the two that had done it before. The album came together and was released in February 1973.

By that math, less than a year after they had departed, The Stooges were back; but they weren't the same.

Having Williamson on guitar changed the sound of the band completely; while there were still plenty of stray sparks of chaos that radiated out of the songs, the core of the band's sound was more streamlined. To be fair, The Stooges and Funhouse were solid, warhorse albums that introduced the band well enough to audiences (to be clear, it was a good introduction but a totally unappreciated one, as the band was positively reviled in 1970), Raw Power was a different beast completely; on it, the band hasn't lost even one of its' teeth, but they have obviously learned to slither a bit and have opened up their palette beyond the bludgeon tactics they employed previously.

In the context of rock n' roll, some albums are just inarguably timeless and of eternal value to listeners; they sound as good now as the day they were released, and pack the same emotional wallop no matter how much times may have changed. The lore behind Raw Power's creation, recording, release and eventual impact upon pop culture is the stuff of magic and fantasy; the album is credited as the first punk album and, after punk broke through years later, musicians including the Sex Pistols' guitarist Steve Jones, Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Kurt Cobain all claimed that the record is essential listening and was one of the defining albums that inspired them. As if to cement the album's value, Raw Power has been remixed (including by Iggy Pop himself in 1996 – more on that later), remastered and reissued no less than six times in North America alone. It is a record that endures and consistently finds new, very receptive ears every time it hits new release racks at record stores.

After all the re-tooling and re-tailoring that has been applied to Raw Power in the thirty-seven years since the album's first release however, someone had to take it back to basics for fear of seeing it lose all its' roots. Were that to happen, Raw Power would run the risk of just becoming another product and that's exactly what Sony/Legacy has done with this deluxe set. While both the mammoth Raw Power Deluxe Edition (as well as its' two-disc counterpart, he Legacy Edition) gives listeners the essentials and goes back to basics as the original mix supplied by David Bowie is re-presented and, even over three decades later, it cuts through fresh and vital.

'Raw Power' is certainly the best way to characterize the sounds that bleed out of the album. The songs exude a pure, raw, sexual and drug-fueled energy (Iggy's substance abuse and impending star power are both beginning to show here, in the best possible ways) from the opening assault of “Search And Destroy” and the vibes only get thicker, sicker, more twisted and potent as the song progresses. While no one could have known it yet, the lyrics would ultimately be fundamental building blocks for punk as lines like “I'm a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” and “I am the world's forgotten boy/the one who searches only to destroy” have been re-written one hundred different ways since, but have never seemed so poignant as they do here; it's malicious and playful and, when you hear them, you feel them.

Amazingly, immediately following that first salvo, The Stooges switch tacks completely and adopt the visage of the pale-eyed stranger for “Gimme Danger.” Now, The Stooges are remembered as three-chord-toting dum dum boys but, on Raw Power, the band was still growing and maturing as songwriters before their break-up in 1974. The perfect foil to “Search And Destroy” (and reminder of that growth) can be found in “Gimme Danger” as, with acoustic guitars and a noticeably sullen, tired and defeated-sounding Iggy Pop on the mic, The Stooges present a very different portrait of themselves as apologetic, contemplative songwriters; it shows that there's more than just mayhem in them.

With those poles set, the rest of the record tries to fill in and flesh out what is quickly appearing to become a more mature songwriting style. Songs like “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell” (the theme from which Bowie would lift for “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” on Hours…), the title track and “Shake Appeal” all further refine The Stooges' proto-punk sound  and “Penetration” and “I Need Somebody” get a little more experimental by factoring a little pop and blues into the band's equation. In each case, other bands would pick these sounds and structures up and run for miles with them, but it's sort of cool to hear the starting points here come across as fairly solid to begin with; it's easy to trace Jon Spencer Blues Explosion back to “I Need Somebody,” but interesting to hear that while JSBX is/was innovative on their own, they had a solid base from which to draw their initial inspiration.

As “Death Trip” closes Raw Power out and finally lets the whole thing fall apart, the result is both satisfying and cathartic. This reissue of Raw Power is satisfying because, unlike so many of the more “adventurous” re-workings of the material, this release stays true to th original; even leaving some of the noticeable flaws (like the clipping that might be from volume or from a little bit of tape left mangled in “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell” intact) in place to imply the rough, warts-and-all initial recording process. In most any other context, such sounds would be regarded as a soft or lazy option, but they just suit here and give credence to the storied chaos that surrounded the band and the sessions that ultimately produced the record.

The chaos reportedly surrounding the sessions that yielded Raw Power is brought into dripping technicolor on the second disc included here. Recorded live at Richard in Atlanta, GA in October 1973, Georgia Peaches (the name often given to this set  in previous partial releases) features The Stooges in rare form for the time; very aggressive but also very soulful (thanks in part, perhaps, to Scott Thurston's Motown-on-PCP keyboards), the band is regularly in a stance that makes Iggy seem as though he could kiss members of the audience or kill them (it's a little laughable when listeners catch a woman at the show say, “I don't think he likes us very much.”) as they blaze through a set that consists largely of songs from Raw Power, but also a few rare gems like “Cock In My Pocket” that are certainly worth the price of admission and show that The Stooges were still a creative body even as they neared their end. Hissing and spitting to their last, The Stooges were known for going down swinging, and Georgia Peaches clinches it.

If that's all the proof and spectacle that listeners need to make believers out of them, they would be well-suited by this Deluxe Edition's counterpart, the Legacy Edition of Raw Power; the original album and Georgia Peaches are included there. For those that crave some more of the mania though, this Deluxe Edition is your go-to set. In addition to the content featured on the Legacy Edition, the Deluxe features an added disc of rare, recently uncovered audio from the Raw Power sessions as well as some of the earlier, aborted attempts to record the material, a DVD documentary outlining the making of the record and a reproduction 7-inch of a promotional Japanese single.

Now, the truth is that the 7-inch re-press included with the Deluxe Edition of Raw Power is the most expendable part of the set. The tracks (“Raw Power” b/w “Search And Destroy”) sound great of course, and a vinyl inclusion will guarantee a “gee whiz!” factor that will have über-fans scrambling for it over the Legacy Edition in spite of the dozens-of-dollars price difference. Were that the only addition to warrant the significant price difference between the sets ($12.99 vs. $83.99 on Amazon.com ), it would be hard to say it's worth it – particularly to fans that are just familiarizing themselves with the material. Likewise, the DVD documentary, while a nice add, is fairly superfluous; the band members themselves are the first to admit that they were triumphantly stoned during the time period of Raw Power, and their recollections are hazy at best. The added commentary supplied by other punk institutions like Henry Rollins is interesting enough, but really only amounts to Stooges banner-waving and fan appreciation; it's cool to see and Rollins does get in some choice lines on camera, but it isn't really essential. What is essential from a 'growth-charting' standpoint is the extra disc of rarities, outtakes and alternate versions included with the Deluxe Edition.

To be fair, some of the tracks included on the Rarities disc have been understandably overlooked in the thirty-seven years since Raw Power's original release in 1973 – “I'm Hungry” is particularly soft by any standard – but there are some here that are surprisingly good too; perhaps without intending to, they prove that, as drug-addled as the band may have been during the sessions, they weren't just lucky enough to get Raw Power's eight tracks. The aborted attempts to capture “I Got A Right” and “I'm Sick Of You” are of particular interest because they indicate the possibility of some true diamonds hiding in the slime, and could have been better album cuts than they ended up being of the original release. Likewise, the alternate mixes (well, half of them – of the four, two were culled from Iggy's remix attempt in '96 which is old news now) of “Shake Appeal” and “Death Trip” both offer some new possibilities in their unhinged and ferocious delivery. They will certainly have long-time fans wondering what could have been had the recording sessions been different, and they also give new fans the benefit of a bit of education; there's more than one way to skin a cat and the alternate mix reels included here – in tandem with the reissued release of Raw Power's original run-time – illustrate that there are at least two good ones.

Alright, so let's take stock. While the Legacy Edition of Raw Power is a great, utilitarian presentation of all that was in all its' glory combined with some material illustrative of how it translated to a live setting, the Deluxe Edition goes one more thought-provoking step and presents some of the possibilities  that The Stooges were still playing with and may have knocked out of the park (the term is subjective; it may have altered the band's course, but it's unlikely that they would have been received any differently had they continued on through the Seventies), had they not disbanded twelve months after Raw Power's release. They didn't, but the added upside to the Deluxe Edition of Raw Power is that it will provide a bit of vindication for the band; history may forever remember The Stooges as a bunch of dum dum boys, but this deluxe edition illustrates that there was a bit more to them and they may have had a couple of tricks left up their sleeve that they just never got to play.

Artist:

www.iggyandthestoogesmusic.com/

www.myspace.com/iggyandthestooges

Compare:

Iggy & The Stooges – “Search And Destroy” – Raw Power (Iggy Pop mix, 1996)

Iggy & The Stooges – “Search And Destroy” – Raw Power (original David Bowie mix, reissued 2010)

Download:

Iggy & The Stooges – “I Got A Right” (outtake from early aborted Raw Power session)

Further Reading/Listening:

Ground Control's Iggy & The Stooges Raw Power (Legacy Edition) review.

Iggy & The Stooges: Raw Power – One Hour Radio Special with Jon Langford (WXRT) Part One

Iggy & The Stooges: Raw Power – One Hour Radio Special with Jon Langford (WXRT) Part Two

Iggy & The Stooges: Raw Power – One Hour Radio Special
with Jon Langford (WXRT) Part Three

Album:

Iggy & The Stooges' Raw Power Deluxe Edition is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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